Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a widely used serum marker for prostate cancer (PCa), but in the critical diagnostic range of 4-10 ng/ml it has limited specificity for distinguishing early PCa from benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). PSA in serum is comprised of a variety of both "free" and "complexed" forms that have been used to improve the specificity of PSA for prostate cancer detection. We previously reported that pro PSA (pPSA), the zymogen or precursor form of PSA, is a component of free PSA in the serum of PCa patients. In the current study, we examined prostate tissues to understand the origin and specificity of pPSA. PSA was immuno-affinity purified from matched sets of prostate tissues including peripheral zone cancer (PZ-C); peripheral zone noncancer; and benign tissue from the transition zone (TZ), the primary site of BPH within the prostate. We found that pPSA is differentially elevated in PZ-C, but is largely undetectable in TZ. N-terminal sequencing revealed that the pPSA was comprised primarily of [-2]pPSA and minor levels of [-4]pPSA, containing pro leader peptides of 2 and 4 amino acids, respectively. The median value of pPSA was 3% in PZ-C and 0% (undetectable) in TZ (P < 0.0026). No pPSA was detected in 13 of 18 transition zone specimens (72%), but only 2 of the 18 matched cancer specimens (11%) contained no measurable pPSA. These results demonstrate that pPSA is more highly correlated with prostate cancer than with BPH. The pPSA in serum may represent a more cancer-specific form of PSA that could help distinguish prostate cancer from BPH.